One Woman's Choice
by Hannah Westman
Olivia took her time walking Apricot, taking the time to enjoy the fresh air and the rare sunshine. The streets were quiet today; quiet enough to offer plenty of that alone time Olivia craved. Well, perhaps that was too harsh - it wasn't that Olivia didn't enjoy being around people. Quite the opposite. But with a heavy workload that took up so much of her time and an enormous friend group that was always planning something new, sometimes it was nice to be in her own company.
Another dog trotted past; a little Scottie with tiny pointed white ears. Apricot barked happily, tail wagging - and the Scottie yipped back excitedly. The owner - a tall, dark-haired man - simply smiled and sidled on.
Olivia waved her hand in a silent goodbye, watching as the man and his tiny dog wandered off. From the side, he looked a lot like her friend Darpan. The same dark hair styled into one of those trendy undercuts. The same profile, with a rounded jaw but strong, jutting cheekbones.
He'd married recently, only last winter in fact. While Olivia was happy for him - of course, she was! - if he had suggested the idea five years ago, she would have laughed. In their youth, Darpan had been anything but the type to settle down. As she thought about it now, her mind drifted back to her past. To when Darpan had first told her about the woman who was now his wife.
Darpan stirred his drink absently, eyes focused on Olivia. The thudding music and busy atmosphere of the Hard Rock Café was one of his favourite things, but he had to admit that it made genuine conversation difficult. Perhaps now hadn't been the time to bring this up, he thought.
Olivia sat across from him, sipping a bright blue cocktail he didn't know the name for. Beside her, Julian watched him intently over the rim of his beer glass.
"It isn't such a big deal you two. Stop looking at me like I've grown a second head!" He rolled his eyes, fighting back the urge to sink into his chair. "I know it's a surprise to see me going steady, but Lily's really great. You should meet her sometime."
Olivia and Julian shared a look. Raised brows, gentle smiles. Darpan couldn't figure out if they were happy for him, or just plain confused.
"I'm just surprised, is all," Julian replied. He had to raise his voice over the music, which for a man so naturally soft-spoken seemed like a struggle. "And you've been dating her for how long?"
Darpan felt his face flush, praying his dark complexion hit the worst of it. Glancing down at his drink, he smiled. "Six months. We met at Connor's birthday, remember?" Connor had thrown some ridiculous house party like they were all teenagers again instead of adults - the majority of whom were already in their mid-thirties. It had been a memorable night, though - especially when Lily had marched right over to him, not a drop of shyness in her, and demanded his number.
Olivia sipped her drink thoughtfully, then turned to pluck a nacho from the plate they were sharing. There was far too much salsa for Darpan's taste, and so she'd been left to each the majority. "Six months and you're only telling us now?" There was no judgement in her voice, just sparkling amusement at the thought. "Why?"
"Because I knew you'd all be surprised," he answered plainly. He reached for a nacho, scraping off the salsa onto the side of the plate. "I know I'm not the kind of man to settle down, but we're great together and I don't want to ruin this. Which is why I'm telling you two - I need advice."
"Darpan, I don't think we're the ones to ask." Olivia glanced at Julian. "I've been single most of my life, and Julian here has terrible luck with women."
"It's true," Julian admitted, "my last date left halfway through the meal."
"You did ask her what she thought of marriage after half an hour," Darpan replied. He was fighting back a smile now, at the mental image of it all. Still, though. Out of everyone Darpan knew - and he knew a lot of people - Olivia and Julian provided the best advice. Regardless of what it was about. "Look, I'm just... afraid that I'll do something stupid and she'll leave. For the first time, I actually want something long term, but I'm lost."
Olivia popped another nacho into her mouth, chewing thoughtfully. "Well," she began slowly, mulling over the words, "if you're right for each other, won't that be enough? I'm not saying it'll be easy - but if you're willing to work at it, you won't need to worry."
"She's stuck around for this long, so she must be doing something right," Julian chipped in with a smile. "Just, don't think about it too much, you know?"
Darpan wasn't usually the type to overthink, which just made this whole situation stranger. Usually, he wouldn't be concerned with relationships at all - he had always thought when it was time for them to end, they would. No point in stressing about it. When he thought of Lily, though, with her beautiful laugh and sparkling blue eyes, Darpan knew he didn't want this to end.
They lapsed into silence for a moment, each lost in their own thoughts. The music continued to thrum and the chatter of surrounding tables buzzed in the back of his mind. Darpan had finished his martini without even realising, and gently pushed the glass aside.
It was Olivia who broke the silence first. Sitting straighter in her chair, hands resting on the table, she met his eyes. "Are you really serious about Lily? I mean, do you see yourself with her years down the line?"
Darpan blinked at the sudden question, features turning into a frown. "I don't know, it's too early for that. But... yes?"
She hummed thoughtfully - at least he thought she did, but the sound was lost to the din of the bar. Then, "we've known each other since university. We all have to grow up sometime." The way she said it, eyes cast off to the side as a waiter walked past, made Darpan wonder if it was even aimed at him at all.
"If it wasn't for Lily," he replied, "I doubt I'd be settling down like this. Or thinking about it, anyway." Just the concept of it was strange to him, causing a flurry of butterflies in his stomach. "I don't know if it means I'm growing up, though. Relationships aren't the cornerstone of becoming an adult."
"If it was, I'd be screwed," Julian joked. "Everyone goes at their own pace, don't they? And romance isn't for everyone."
"I suppose not," Olivia replied absently. She was thinking about something; Darpan knew by the way she tapped manicured nails against the wooden table, and by how she stared off at a spot just above his head. "Anyway," she seemed to snap back to herself, running a hand through her thick, short hair with a shrug and a smile. "It's good that you've found someone. I'd say I'm jealous, but..."
"But you've sworn off romance forever?" Julian supplied helpfully. He was artfully hiding a smirk behind his beer glass, but Darpan caught the flash of amusement in his gaze. "You're lucky. Some of us aren't single by choice."
"You'll find someone too," Olivia replied, reaching over to pat his shoulder, "but maybe online dating isn't the way to go."
"Meet someone the old fashioned way, like I did," Darpan said with a laugh. He enjoyed this, the easy banter between them even when they spoke of heavier topics. Some people would have gotten defensive, but with Olivia and Julian, it was always easy.
"Maybe," Olivia said slowly, a grin gradually overtaking her face, "we'll be organising a wedding soon?"
Eyes snapping wide, Darpan felt his entire face flush hot. He reached across the table to slap her arm playfully, glaring in a way that was only partially for fun. "Don't get ahead of yourself," he chided, "it isn't as if we're going to be looking at wedding dresses and discussing children just yet."
"You, with kids? That'd be a sight."
Olivia was right, and it made laughter bubble up in Darpan's throat, too. The closest he'd ever gotten to kids was babysitting his nieces when they were young. They were fine as babies, and all they do is cry and sleep. Toddlers though, who were just learning to walk and get into all the places you thought they couldn't reach... Darpan shuddered.
"Kids aren't everything, and don't let anyone pressure you into having them just because it's expected." Olivia plucked another nacho from the diminishing pile. By now the cheese was hardening and the nachos were cold, but she didn't seem to care. "God knows I'll never have kids."
"I'd like them," Julian admitted with a nervous little shrug, "but you've got to have a partner for that."
Everyone's drinks were finished now, and the nachos had turned into a cold, soggy mess. It was bound to happen when they spent more time chatting than eating. They could have ordered another round of drinks or more food - but already the outside world was growing dark, and it was a long trek back home. Unless Darpan wanted to phone a taxi, but he had always preferred walking. The fresh air helped after too many drinks.
Olivia tracked down a waiter and asked for the bill, after which Darpan offered to pay. It had been his idea to go out, after all, and it always felt nice to do something for friends. Then, they were ready to go.
The outside was blissfully cool compared to the stuffy Hard Rock, and even with so many people still on the Glasgow streets, it was silent compared to inside. It was Darpan's favourite place for drinks, but after a while it always caused a headache to form in the back of his eyes. Or maybe it was just the alcohol.
They stood together on the street, huddled for warmth even though it wasn't all that cold. A breeze rustled Darpan's hood and caused Olivia's pixie cut to blow into her eyes, but they were bundled up enough not to really feel it. Or Darpan was, anyway, but in his thin hoodie, Julian looked ready to freeze.
"I'd say we could all go back to mine for more drinks," Darpan offered, "but... well, the place is a state. Lily keeps saying I should tidy up, but I never get around to it."
"Oh?" Olivia teased, and her dark eyes sparkled, "she's stayed over?"
Avoiding her gaze, Darpan looked out across the street. "Once or twice," he admitted bashfully, "I'm close to her work and sometimes she comes over after her shift."
Now even Julian was hooked, his eyes curious despite the way he shivered. Good gossip overruled freezing to death, it appeared. "Where does she work?"
"That," Darpan replied with a bright grin, "you'll have to wait to find out. When you meet her, I mean."
Disappointed, Julian folded his arms and scowled - but there was amusement there, too. "All right," he resigned, "but you have to promise we can meet her soon."
Satisfied, he turned to stare down the street. A few shops were still open, their lights spilling out onto the pavement. Yet most were in shadow, their shutters drawn and interiors empty.
"I don't know about you two," Olivia said after a moment, "but I'm freezing. If I run, I can probably catch the next train." She was hopping from foot to foot, apparently not as impervious to the cold as Darpan had assumed.
Actually, there was a chill crawling up his legs, too. "Yeah, I should probably hurry back if I want to make decent time."
"You're going to walk? In this weather?"
"Lily says it's good for me."
Both Julian and Olivia rolled their eyes, but it was with the warm amusement of two good friends. "You really do like her, don't you?"
Darpan hesitated for a moment, biting down on his lip. Well, yes. Wasn't that kind of obvious? There was something else, though, that lurked under the surface of his thoughts whenever he thought of Lily. Something stronger than just like. Truthfully, the words didn't even begin to explain the depth of what he felt for her.
After a moment, Darpan felt a little jolt of realisation. Fighting back a grin, he answered, "I love her."
Olivia smiled fondly at the memory. Although she had never expected Darpan, of all people, to settle down - well, it had worked out perfectly for them. It showed just how much a person could change, sometimes without even trying. Now he was happily married to Lily, and it was clear how much they loved each other.
Darpan hadn't been looking for love, but he found it. If only everyone was so lucky. Poor Julian was still single, three years after that conversation with Darpan.
And as for Olivia? Well, things hadn't changed much for her. She'd climbed the ranks of her publishing company to become a lead editor, added a hefty sum to her yearly pay, but not much else. Which was fine, because Olivia was happy with where her life was at. You could be like Darpan, her sister Elise might have said, just waiting for the right person. Olivia knew different. Some people fell in love without meaning to, or realised after years that they had secretly wanted it all along. Not her.
Although that conversation had brought up plenty to think about, in the end Olivia knew that Darpan's situation was one in a million. They were friends, but that didn't mean they both wanted the same thing.
Without even realising, Olivia had walked the entire street and come back around to her own house. At her feet, Apricot tugged on the leash, eager to go inside. With her walk over, she would collapse by the end of the sofa and promptly fall asleep, as she did every afternoon.
Grinning, Olivia reached for her keys, and the door unlocked with a click. Apricot darted inside, only to plop down at the foot of the stairs to wait for Olivia to remove the leash. She did, and then watched in silent amusement as Apricot wandered into the living room. Within moments, she was a golden, dog-shaped lump on the carpet.
Olivia's one duty for the day was complete, leaving her with the rest of the afternoon to herself. Eva and her two kids were nowhere to be seen, but the thoughts they had spurred on, remained. It wasn't just Darpan who had surprised her, or who had helped form her opinions on life. Olivia had dozens of friends, all with unique experiences, and they made her realise that perhaps, she needed to reflect more. On her life and choices, on where her future might go.
It wasn't like Olivia to do such a thing - but with Darpan and Lily in mind, Olivia's thoughts turned to another friend; Julian.